Communications Conversations: Meeting for coffee? Don’t blow it…

With so much talk about using new media tools to network in today’s environment, I think we sometimes forget that a good, old-fashioned coffee meet-up can be the most powerful networking tool you have in your arsenal.

Yet few people “execute” the coffee meet-up as well as they could.

There can and should be a lot of thought and effort put into every coffee you have with a colleague, former co-worker or potential employer or client.

Here’s why.

Each interaction you have with these people is helping them form their perception of you. Don’t think for a second it doesn’t all matter. The emails, phone calls, notes you send in the mail. It all helps people form their opinion of you and the work you’re capable of.

Take that very seriously.

Given that, here’s some tips on HOW to take that seriously and make the most of your coffee meet-ups:

Treat each meet-up like a finals exam.

You know where I’m going with this. Do your homework. Research the person you’re meeting up with on LinkedIn. Look for commonalities–did you go to the same school? Do you have common friends? Did you work at the same agency a few years ago? If they blog, check out their last few posts, and be prepared to comment on them (in person at the meet-up). And finally, check their Twitter feed (if they have one). Find out what’s been top-of-mind with them recently and do some digging to see if you can help answer questions or point them to a potential resource online–or off.

Be ready to answer the “What’s up with you?” question.

It’s the question most people start the conversation with. Yet, we’re typically woefully under-prepared to answer it. Don’t be. Have an answer ready–but not just any answer. One that tells this person exactly what you want them to know. If you’re looking for a job, your answer should include companies you’ve been looking at and considering. If you’re reconnecting with a former colleague your answer should talk about the last couple projects you’ve been working on. Whatever the case, make sure you’re giving them information that will A) allow them to help you, and B) help them form the impression of you that you want them to have.

Close with one offer to help and one “ask”

Always, always make sure you close the meet-up with an offer to help. But, don’t settle for a general “how can I help you?” offer (I’ve made that mistake too often). No, you want to close with a specific offer to help. If the person you’re meeting with is looking for a job, offer to help connect them with 2-3 people who can help. If they’re looking to hire, refer them to a candidate you may know. Just make sure the offer to help is specific and something you can act on in the next week. Then, make your own ask. Do you need a referral? Job opportunities of your own? Or, maybe it’s just a couple additional people to meet with? Don’t ask too much–but do make sure to ask.

Don’t forget to follow up

Obviously, if you made a promise to make a referral or connection after the meeting, take care of that within 48 hours max. If you didn’t have an immediate follow-up item, create one. At the very least send a quick follow-up email after your meeting thanking the person for their time and commenting on a few of the topics you discussed. Finally, include a post or two that you’ve found interesting over the last week or so and tell them why you thought they might find it interesting. Remember, follow-up is key–if for no other reason than so few people do it well.

Those are my tips. What about you?

This post was written by Arik Hanson and originally published on Communications Conversations. Follow him on Twitter: @arikhanson.

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